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My interest is in how problem-solving decisions are made, and what, if any skills could be taught to increase people's ability to make effective decisions? Effective, in this case, means that an external observer finds the decision a sufficient and satisfying solution to the problem given the thinker's current understanding of environment, context, and resources.

I understand the Information Principle of emotion takes the position that emotions are a "summary" of all that the unconscious notices about the current situation. (See this link for an excellent overview.) Given the breadth of its perception, and the faster processing time of its systems, emotion is tremendously powerful as an advisor. The reward system is triggered when a desired choice is contemplated, so is the role primary, rather than advisory? Is conscious thought -- what we come up with when we "think about our decision" -- always post hoc, used only for coming up with a way to explain what our feelings told us we wanted?

Regarding skills to increase effectiveness, I wonder at the value of learning to overcome our initial emotional response to allow the more deliberate conscious processes to make a real contribution. I have heard that trauma victims with absent emotions dither about the smallest decisions, so I'm not talking full suppression. Is anyone aware of research into the effect of trying to achieve some balance here?

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An interesting perspective to clarify the interplay between rational and emotional can be found in the 'risk as feelings' approach. Here is the paper and here the abstract:

Virtually all current theories of choice under risk or uncertainty are cognitive and consequentialist. They assume that people assess the desirability and likelihood of possible outcomes of choice alternatives and integrate this information through some type of expectation-based calculus to arrive at a decision. The authors propose an alternative theoretical perspective, the risk-as-feelings hypothesis, that highlights the role of affect experienced at the moment of decision making. Drawing on research from clinical, physiological, and other subfields of psychology, they show that emotional reactions to risky situations often diverge from cognitive assessments of those risks. When such divergence occurs, emotional reactions often drive behavior. The risk-as-feelings hypothesis is shown to explain a wide range of phenomena that have resisted interpretation in cognitive–consequentialist terms.

Loewenstein, G.F., Weber, E. U., et al (2001) Risk as feelings. Psychological Bulletin, 127(2):267-286.

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can you expand your answer give a more specific summary of the paper and how it addresses this question than just the abstract? –  Artem Kaznatcheev Apr 29 '12 at 4:42

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